Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Marketing on a Dime

Posted for www.miamiforrussian.com

Marketing on a Dime
Covering all the bases with grassroots marketing can generate a “buzz” for next to nothing and jump-start a business.

When Nuvia Sutton wants to drum up business, she slips on a pair of comfortable shoes and walks her farm area, distributing fliers door to door. “I enjoy placing fliers because people can’t help but see them, and they know I was there,” says the sales associate with AAA Realty Group. Inc., in Pembroke Pines.

Pounding the pavement has proved worthwhile for Sutton. At just a few cents apiece, her 8.5 by 11-inch fliers create name recognition. And during her firsy year using fliers, she sold three houses in her flier-coverage area.

“A day in the life of a [sales associate] requires commitment, but there are only so many hours in the day,” says Sutton, who is also a single mom. She’s persuaded, however, that this will be the year she devotes to full-time sales. But with a “nada budget,” as she puts it, she’ll need to find additional low-cost ways in which to market herself.

Bring in the Expert
For tips on reviving her business without breaking the bank, Sutton spoke with Dan Gooder Richard, an authority on real estate marketing and lead management. “I’m going to call this my pennywise marketing plan,” he says. “When it generates an income, you can allocate 10 percent of that toward taking yourself to the next level. For now, though, much of what I’m going to suggest is free.” Here’s his advice.

1. Target Your Efforts
First, Richard recommends that Sutton continue what she’s doing. “It’s interesting how successful you’ve been going door to door,” he says. “I suggest that you keep going back to the same area, but I want you to focus on special doors—not every house.”

He proposes that she target for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) homes, expired listings and pre-foreclosures.

“Start by going to the newspaper, and driving around and looking for FSBO signs,” he says. “You could also subscribe to an online service called FSBOLeader.com. For a fee, they’ll do the research and send you a list of FSBOs in Broward County.”

Expired listings can easily be found by “keeping an eye on the MLS like a hawk,” adds Richard. And Sutton will be able to identify pre-foreclosure homes by looking up notices of default at the local courthouse. “I believe those are kept in the tax assessment office, but it varies,” says Richard, adding that homeowners who’ve fallen behind on mortgage payments are always given written notice before the foreclosure process starts. “You also can find services [in the Yellow Pages or online] that will go to the courthouse and do the research, and send you the list for a fee.” Title companies are also worth an inquiry, he says.

2. Add Calls to Action
Sutton’s fliers offer more than predictable “Just-Listed” or “Just-Sold” notices. “On one side, I put information about me and on the other side I might include market updates,” she says. “When they had an adopt-a-tree program in Miami-Dade, I put out fliers about where it was taking place.” People are grateful for the information, she says. One time she included a write-up about hurricane shutters that she found on the Florida Realtors® News e-mail service and she “got calls like there was no tomorrow.”

Richard says Sutton is on the right track with her fliers but that she should include some calls to action. “Alternate two ‘Call me’ offers of just a few words,” he says. “Appeal to sellers with something like ‘Call me to find out what your home is really worth.’ (And for emphasis, be sure to underline, italicize or boldface the word really.) You could tell prospective buyers to ‘Call me to find out how much home you can buy in today’s market’ and then list your name, company, phone number and e-mail address.”

Sutton has been using the slogan “Provides Positive Results” but Richard recommends that she make it less formal by changing Provides to We Provide. “Every transaction is a team effort,” he says. “It’s going to be you plus the office or perhaps an attorney or inspector or surveyor, so ‘We Provide Positive Results’ works better.”

3. Follow Up on Free Leads
Signing up for floor time at her office’s “duty desk” would give Sutton an opportunity to meet walk-ins and answer the phone, says Richard. “This takes me to my next thought, which is ‘How to generate leads without paying for them.’ One way to do this is to sit open houses, not only for yourself but also for other sales associates in the office.” Sutton has already offered to do that for a few sales associates. “It’s obviously a free way to generate buyer leads but, more importantly, seller leads,” says Richard.

Sutton has also volunteered to hold open houses for FSBOs in her farm area. “I tell them to go out and enjoy their weekend with their family, and if a buyer comes in, I’ll get a commission,” she says.

One way for Sutton to get free buyer leads, Richard says, is to ask the listings-only sales associates in her office for them. “I call those [sales associates] my top guns,” says Sutton. She does get buyer leads from them occasionally, especially if the prospect speaks only Spanish (Sutton is bilingual). “Ramp that up,” says Richard, “and try to triple the number of top guns with whom you’re working. Be sure to show them what you’ve done with those referrals.”

She can also offer to promote their listings. “You might not actually advertise those top guns’ listings in the normal ‘paid’ advertising sense of the word, but you could include a property description and thumbnail photographs on your fliers,” Richard says.

4. Reactivate Old Files
Next, Richard recommends that Sutton pore over her office’s closed files from the past three to seven years to identify buyers who are no longer represented by a sales associate. He calls this his “orphan plan” because no one can lay claim to these buyers. “Reactivate those files and start knocking on those doors,” says Richard, adding that Sutton should ask the original listing agent for permission if he or she is still with the company.

5. Go After Trust Properties
“When a property owner dies, it may be without a will or there may be two executors who can’t agree (e.g., one wants to sell and one doesn’t),” says Richard. “The courts appoint a professional fiduciary as a mediator. This is a very small targeted niche market, but in a nutshell, the sellers are often out of state and the best solution is often to sell the property and divvy up the cash.”

Richard recommends that Sutton look up professional fiduciaries and probate attorneys in the phone book and/or online and start calling them. “There are probably a lot of probate attorneys in South Florida because of the substantial [senior] market,” he says. “They don’t charge a referral fee. They just want to get an inherited property sold. You could become a specialist in selling inherited property in your market, and it won’t cost you a penny.”

6. Sign Up for Free Web Pages
Sutton doesn’t have a Web site, but Richard says there are some online freebies that she can take advantage of. A Web page is one option. She already has one with her local Board as well as Florida Realtors Florida Living Network (http://fl.living.net). Richard suggests that she check out these three other sites that host free Web page profiles for real estate professionals: www.House-Hunting.com, www.HomesandLand.com and www.HarmonHomes.com. “It’s possible that you must advertise with those sites [to get a Web page],” says Richard. “If your office is already an advertiser, you can probably talk your way in.

“A Web page is just a page and not a Web site, but you still need to include a description of your experience, a photo of yourself and information about your specialty and your designations,” adds Richard. “And try to include your calls to action and your ‘We Provide Positive Results’ slogan on all your Web pages.”

7. Reserve a Branded Domain
Finally, Richard recommends that Sutton go ahead and buy a domain name for her future Web site. He already did some of the legwork for her, by researching names that she could possibly build as a brand. “My personal favorite is CooperCityTopAgent.com, but BrowardTopAgent.com and BrowardCountyTopAgent.com are also available. Those are huge, and for less than $20 each, it’s money well spent.”

This column, designed to provide advice from industry experts to real estate professionals who need help with technology, business or marketing issues, won the Bronze Award in the Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association.

• Limited budget; looking for low-cost marketing ideas.

• Target specific clients and customers; follow up on free leads; sign up for free Web pages; buy a domain.

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Meet the Expert
Dan Gooder Richard is author of “Real Estate Rainmaker: Guide to Online Marketing,” published by John Wiley & Sons. Richard is also founder and president of the Gooder Group, a Fairfax, Va.-based publisher of marketing materials for real estate professionals and lenders. Visit his Web site at www.GooderGroup.com.

Banks, GSEs spend more money to spruce up REOs

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Banks, GSEs spend more money to spruce up REOs
WASHINGTON – Dec. 15, 2011 – Foreclosed homes continue to hamper nearby property values. In some cities, foreclosures were found to decrease nearby property values up to $17,000, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

More programs are being aimed at rehabbing foreclosed homes so the harm to property values won’t be as great.

According to the GAO report, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac doled out $953 million last year to maintain and fix up vacant homes.

“We are committed to stabilizing communities and helping the housing market recover,” a Fannie Mae spokesperson told HousingWire. “Our goal is to sell REO properties at a competitive market rate, and maintaining our properties is an important part of achieving that goal.”

Since 2008, investors and nonprofits received $6 billion in grant money from HUD’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program to maintain and fix up vacant homes. In Detroit, the city spent $20 million last year demolishing vacant homes or rehabbing ones that could still be saved after neglect.

Wells Fargo & Co. said recently it would donate $5.53 million to 52 nonprofit groups through its Leading the Way Home Program Priority Markets Initiative so that the groups can purchase and redevelop foreclosed and abandoned homes.

“These grants will help stabilize and rebuild local communities,” said Kimberly Jackson, executive director of Wells Fargo’s Housing Foundation. “We want to do what we can to make resources available to support efforts led by nonprofits to revitalize neighborhoods in cities that have felt the effects of financial difficulties and a challenging economy.”

Source: “GSEs Spend Nearly $1 Billion on Property Preservation,” HousingWire (Dec. 9, 2011) and Wells Fargo

© Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Scheduled home auctions hit 9-month high in Nov.

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Scheduled home auctions hit 9-month high in Nov.
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Dec. 15, 2011 – Fewer U.S. homes entered the foreclosure process or were taken back by banks in November, reflecting a seasonal pullback in foreclosure activity by lenders and mortgage servicers.

But for some homeowners already behind on their mortgage payments, the end-of-year slowdown isn’t likely to provide much of a reprieve.

The number of homes in foreclosure and scheduled to be auctioned hit a nine-month high last month, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

The surge came about because of a spike three months earlier in homes entering the foreclosure process for the first time. And unless those borrowers find a way to get current on their mortgage payments, many of those homes will likely be sold at auction or end up being taken back by the lender.

“Despite a seasonal slowdown similar to what we’ve seen each of the past four years, November’s numbers suggest a new set of incoming foreclosure waves,” said RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio.

All told, foreclosure auctions were scheduled on 96,540 U.S. homes last month, RealtyTrac said. That’s up 13 percent from October, but still down 17 percent from November last year.

Some states posted far higher monthly increases in scheduled home auctions last month. In California, they were up 63 percent, while in Washington they climbed 56 percent.

Those homes could end up back on the market as foreclosures or short sales, when a homeowner sells their property for less than what they owe on their mortgage. And that means more pressure on home values, because foreclosures and short sales typically sell for a lot less than other homes.

U.S. foreclosure activity slowed sharply starting in October of last year, after problems surfaced with the way many lenders were handling foreclosures. Specifically, signing off on home foreclosures without first verifying documents – a practice referred to as “robo-signing.”

Many of the nation’s largest banks reacted by temporarily ceasing all foreclosures, re-filing previously filed foreclosure cases and revisiting pending cases to prevent errors.

The pace of foreclosure activity continued to slow much of this year as major lenders worked toward a possible settlement of government probes into the industry’s mortgage-lending practices.

Those settlement talks, led by a group of state attorneys general, have suffered some setbacks in recent months after officials in California and Massachusetts broke with the rest of the states. There also has been disagreement among the states’ prosecutors over what terms to offer the banks.

Still, there have been signals that foreclosure activity will be increasing in coming months.

Banks stepped up action in August against homeowners whose mortgage had gone unpaid. The number of homes receiving an initial notice of default that month jumped 33 percent from July. Default notices also rose between September and October.

That helped set the stage for the sharp increase in scheduled foreclosure auctions last month and will likely contribute to an anticipated bump in home repossessions early next year, Saccacio said.

Home repossessions hit their lowest level since March 2008 last month, according to RealtyTrac. In all, banks took back 56,124 homes last month, down 17 percent from October and from November a year ago.

Banks are now on track to repossess some 810,000 homes this year, down from more than 1 million last year, according to RealtyTrac. The firm had originally anticipated lenders would repossess some 1.2 million homes this year.

High unemployment, a sluggish housing market and falling home values remain a major factor in homeowners falling behind on their mortgage payments. Many borrowers also have simply stopped paying their mortgage because they are underwater – a term for owing more on a mortgage than the home is worth.

At the end of September, 10.7 million, or 22.1 percent of all U.S. homes with a mortgage, were underwater, according to CoreLogic. And an additional 2.4 million borrowers had less than 5 percent equity in their homes, the firm said.

In all, 224,394 U.S. properties received a foreclosure-related notice last month, down 3 percent from October and down 14 percent from November last year, RealtyTrac said. That amounts to one in every 579 households.

Initial default notices declined 8 percent from October and were down 9 percent from November last year.

At the state level, Nevada had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate last month with one in every 175 households receiving a foreclosure notice – more than three times the national average.

California, which alone accounted for 28 percent of all U.S. homes receiving a foreclosure notice last month, had the second-highest foreclosure rate. Arizona was third.

Rounding out the top 10 states with the highest foreclosure rate in November are Utah, Georgia, Michigan, Florida, Illinois, Ohio and South Carolina.
AP Logo Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press, Alex Veiga, AP real estate writer.

SEC charges ex-Fannie, Freddie CEOs with fraud

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SEC charges ex-Fannie, Freddie CEOs with fraud
WASHINGTON (AP) – Dec. 16, 2011 – The Securities and Exchange Commission has brought civil fraud charges against six former top executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, saying they misled the government and taxpayers about risky subprime mortgages the mortgage giants held during the housing bust.

Those charged include the agencies’ two former CEOs, Fannie’s Daniel Mudd and Freddie’s Richard Syron. They are the highest-profile individuals to be charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis.

Mudd and Syron led the mortgage giants when the housing bubble burst in late 2006 and 2007. The four other top executives also worked for the companies during that time.

The case was filed in federal court in New York City. Lawyers for Mudd and Syron couldn’t be reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Fannie told investors in 2007 that it had roughly $4.8 billion worth of subprime loans on its books. The SEC says that Fannie actually had about $43 billion worth of products targeted to borrowers with weak credit.

Freddie said about 11 percent of its single-family loans were subprime in 2007. The SEC says it was closer to about 18 percent.

“Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives told the world that their subprime exposure was substantially smaller than it really was,” said Robert Khuzami, SEC’s enforcement director. “These material misstatements occurred during a time of acute investor interest in financial institutions’ exposure to subprime loans, and misled the market about the amount of risk.”

Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million loans. The Bush administration seized control of the mortgage giants in September 2008.

So far, the companies have cost taxpayers almost $150 billion – the largest bailout of the financial crisis. They could cost up to $259 billion, according to its government regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Administration.
AP LogoCopyright © 2011 The Associated Press, Derek Kravitz, AP business writer.

Top 10 cities targeted by foreign investors

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Top 10 cities targeted by foreign investors
ORLANDO, Fla. – Dec. 19, 2011 – From Chinese investors flocking to California to Canadian snowbirds heading to Arizona, international homebuyers are offering a growing niche for more real estate professionals.

But which places are international investors targeting in their home search? Point2Homes.com evaluated where buyers from overseas are looking online to gauge possible current and future home-purchasing patterns.

Canadian investors have a growing appetite for U.S. real estate, Point2 finds. Canadian investors made up 91.89 percent of the overall international traffic to Arizona listings, 75.90 percent to Hawaii, 73.92 percent to Michigan, 70.55 percent to Nevada, and 65.05 percent to California.

Las Vegas had the highest overall international traffic online among U.S. cities, with Canadians serving as the leading source of traffic there at 70.47 percent, followed by 5.28 percent of the traffic coming from U.K. residents and 2.19 percent from France.

The top 10 cities for international traffic online by international buyers in the third quarter are:

1. Las Vegas, Nev.
2. Orlando, Fla.
3. Kissimmee, Fla.

4. Detroit, Mich.
5. Pompano-Beach, Fla.
6. Miami, Fla.

7. Mesa, Ariz.
8. Davenport, Fla.
9. Phoenix, Ariz.
10. Indio, Calif.

Overall, Florida emerged as the top state attracting international traffic online for the third-quarter, according to Point2.

Source: Point2

© Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Freddie Mac issues 2012 outlook

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Freddie Mac issues 2012 outlook
MCLEAN, Va. – Dec. 19, 2011 – Freddie Mac released its U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for December providing five projections for the coming year.

“While the headwinds remain strong going into 2012, there are indications the economy and the housing market are gaining ground, albeit slowly,” says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac, vice president and chief economist. “Sustained and increased job growth beyond the average monthly payroll gains of 130,000 so far this year (ending in November) are essential. In housing, look for the rental market to lead the way and for some improvement in the single-family space in parts of the country.

Outlook highlights for 2012

• Economic growth will likely strengthen to about 2.5 percent in 2012.

• The U.S. unemployment rate will decline but likely remain above 8 percent.

• Mortgage rates will likely remain very low, at least through mid-2012.

• Housing activity will be better in 2012, but not robust.

• Expect less single-family originations but more multifamily lending in 2012.

Freddie Mac offers background information on its website, “Peering into 2012.” Freddie Mac compiles data on major economic and housing and mortgage market indicators and offers forecasts based on those indicators.

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

Neighborhood blogs offer new way to reach buyers

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Neighborhood blogs offer new way to reach buyers
NEW YORK – Dec. 20, 2011 – More real estate professionals and developers are finding that in reaching today’s homebuyers, it’s not important to just sell the qualities of a home but also the neighborhood. As such, more real estate professionals are setting up special neighborhood blogs geared to highlighting the benefits of the surrounding area.

For example, Lori Ordover marketed a condo building in New York by setting up a neighborhood blog that highlighted the nearby attractions to the condo, including profiles of local businesses, guides to the neighborhood, and a panel discussion on the financial district’s future.

Such “meet-the-neighbors” blogs can help acquaint buyers with an area, an article in The New York Times notes.

The neighborhood blogs may highlight nearby businesses and reveal distances to schools, shopping, and parks as well as respond to questions from prospective buyers – which is what a blog for The Azure condo unit in New York city does.

Some blogs may also solidify the connection between a familiar neighborhood and the home. The Carriage House is located in a popular neighborhood in New York, so marketers are using the blog to highlight the building’s connection to the area. The blog is featured on the Warburg Realty website, which markets the building, and also serves as cross-promotion for local businesses.

Source: “Why Building Blogs Are District Boosters,” The New York Times (Dec. 15, 2011)

© Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

4 tips for improving your business in 2012

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4 tips for improving your business in 2012
SAN DIEGO – Dec. 20, 2011 – Become a specialist and target a niche market in your real estate business in 2012, suggests Alan Shafran, with Prudential California Realty in San Diego and president of ShowingSuite.com. In a recent article at RISMedia, Shafran offers some of the following tips for success in the new year:

1. What’s working and what isn’t? First evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your current marketing plan. Second, identify your talents and skills. Third, consider new strategies that match your skillset.

“If you want to try something new – for example, the mailing of postcards to reach a new farm – make sure you have enough resources to cover the cost of the project for a period of at least six months,” Shafran suggests. “If you don’t have the budget, don’t start the project. Implementing a new marketing strategy without giving it enough time to succeed will only dilute the effectiveness of your other marketing programs, because it will sap you of your time, effort and energy.”

2. Hone your sales skills. Jot down a list of the areas where you feel you need improvement. Vow to become more educated and try role-playing exercises to allow you to speak with more confidence and knowledge.

3. Re-evaluate your branding and the demographics you’re targeting. “To be successful, it’s important to constantly evaluate what types of homes people are looking for in your area, and what they are willing to pay,” Shafran says. “After you figure out what type of clients you want to target, take the time to adjust your marketing strategy to their preferences.”

4. Update your profile and marketing materials. “Chances are, if your pictures and business cards make you look like you are 25 years younger than you actually are, then it’s time for an update,” Shafran says. “Shocking the customer is typically not a good idea.” Also, make sure your resume and website reflect today’s customer, given the financial environment.

Source: “10 Simple Steps for Making 2012 a Success,” RISMedia (Dec. 18, 2011)

© Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Websites: Your Internet Marketing Machine

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Your Internet Marketing Machine

Turn your site into a supercharged marketing tool.

Mitch Ribak credits his souped-up website marketing with increasing his business by 700 percent since opening four years ago. Ribak, a broker with Tropical Realty of Suntree in Melbourne, previously worked in Internet marketing, so he handles his own online marketing, which includes search engine optimization (SEO), lead capture and lead conversion. He even co-created a program [100MPHMarketing.com] to help him track his marketing efforts.

While Ribak’s monthly expenditure of $6,000 for online marketing may seem high, consider this: It has netted him $28,000 in sales in just one month. “I spend the majority of my money on pay-per-click fees to a program that brings active buyers to my site,” he says.
Here’s how to boost your online presence.
Grow Your Network
It’s vital that you find an SEO program to drive buyers to your site. Good search engine placement makes a pay-per-click strategy [where you pay a fee for people who click through to your site] very worthwhile. Ribak says HomeGain’s BuyerLink [homegain.com/buyerlink], is a “great source because they do all the work. If you search for ‘Melbourne real estate,’ you’ll end up on our site [because it’s so high in the search engine rankings].” Ribak’s company hosts two websites: MitchRealty.com and melbournehomesearch.com.

Track Your Leads
Use a lead-capture format, such as asking people to register or sign up for a benefit, to obtain contact information. Then, store this information in a customer relations management [CRM] program. This is an “easy-to-use database that allows you to keep updated on consumers’ actions on the website.” Two sources are Top Producer and Microsoft Outlook. For Ribak’s two offices, the CRM is tracking 21,000 leads.

Develop a Lead-Conversion Strategy
This program should allow you to e-mail new listings, follow up on phone calls and develop a drip e-mail campaign.

Ribak says the software he developed “automatically assigns leads, reports to administration if the lead wasn’t worked, sends an initial list of properties to the lead, places the lead into an automatic listings-update program and sends comparable listings to the customer.”

With the right tools in place, you can keep track of Internet leads and ensure your website stays at the top of any search.

Rich Niche

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Rich Niche
Tap into the Luxury Market

Know what luxury buyers want and give it to them.

When Dennis Brando entered real estate in 2004, he brought 25 years of marketing and merchandising experience with him. The senior-level positions he had held with companies such as JCPenney and Target taught him how to zero in on customers’ wants and needs.

“According to the Harrison Group poll for American Express, just 5 percent of the population controls $32 trillion in assets. I wanted to go where the money was, so I chose the luxury market,” says Brando, a sales associate with John R. Wood, Inc. in Naples.

Here’s his strategy:

Study Your Customer
“In the luxury market, there are certain websites and magazines that people read,” says Brando. He studies publications like Departures for Platinum American Express customers and Veranda, The Wall Street Journal and Homes of the Hamptons to learn about his target prospects’ buying habits.

“The first year I [advertised] in Homes of the Hamptons, more than $12 million in business came to us from [that area],” he says.

Reach Their Inner Circle
When Brando reads about a celebrity or sports star coming to the area, he contacts that person’s manager first. “There’s a website, WhoRepresents.com, that [tells you a celebrity’s] publicity and business managers’ names.” The site bills itself as the “entertainment industry’s insider database,” and costs $12.99 a month for an individual subscription or $100 a month for a corporate account. “It works. My success with sports people has been amazing,” says Brando, who credits the site with helping him gain four sports star customers last year alone.

Get Your Name Out
Brando spends about 18 percent of his net income on marketing, which includes print ads, his website (dennisbrando.com), direct mail and a personal brochure.

“As an ex-retailer, I know that when business is off, you must advertise more,” he says. “Some of the best advertising is free, like letters to the editor. I was recently quoted in SmartMoney magazine in reference to the Southwest Florida real estate market. That interview got me business and exposure in additional [media].”

Give VIP Service
Brando will arrange for just about anything for prospects from car transport to contractors for a remodeling project.

His “Let me treat you like a star!” tagline also helps him stand out. He recalls the time when a well-known celebrity called from a local hotel and proclaimed, “I’m a star!” and then mentioned that she was looking for a property for her mother.

The utmost discretion is needed when dealing with people at this level, Brando says. “Any slip of personal information, including names of people you’ve worked with, could cost you a relationship,” he says, “but once you break in and do an excellent job, you’re in.”